Can we talk?

It seems that in these modern times, the number of methods of communication we have available to us is huge, yet in many cases, our ability to communicate effectively with each other is somewhat impaired. It really is a double edged sword.

I am a big fan of text based communication. I hate using the phone for voice calls, unless it is close family or friends and even then, when I miss a call I am likely to reply via text, email or some other form of private message, unless it is something which needs to be spoken about. However, none of these are a substitute for real world face to face communication. Socially, I much prefer this, which is why I am so fond of pubs. I go to the pub for the social interaction and whilst I do enjoy a beer, I hardly ever drink at home. There is no substitute for making new friends or having a laugh or a heart-to-heart with existing friends.

I think I am of a fortunate age whereby I grew up never having had anything like text or email, yet when it came along was young enough to get to grips with it and keep up with ongoing developments. Consequently, I am fairly able to instinctively choose which method of communication is best for any given situation.

However, one thing which I feel is seriously undermining pretty much any of the above is social networking and in particular Facebook. Now I have posted about Facebook in the past; the way many of us feel beholden to it and the way it is interwoven into our daily lives. I confess I am a regular user myself and have an ongoing love/hate/addiction relationship with it. It seems to be different for everybody.

Essentially, the majority of the platform is in the public domain. OK, you may have your profile locked down to varying degrees but it should still be considered as public, since any one of the people on your friends list can relay information to a third party which can in turn be passed on to a fourth whom you may have never even heard of, let alone met. Private messages and chat can be considered less public in this way but not totally private.

The Facebook wall seems to be peoples’ primary use of the platform from what I can gather. It’s a constant stream of consciousness and users can post replies to other users’ posts. It can generate stimulating discussion if used in a considered way but it can (and often does) result in arguments. In some cases, I have seen it used as a tool to actually initiate arguments with people or about people and in extreme cases this has even led to serious allegations and legal proceedings.

Then there is “Facebitching”, which is where people use their status update mechanism to offload about something or someone in a vague manner. These posts often contain terms such as “some people” or “a certain person” or “a place I won’t mention”. The poster is obviously referring to someone or something specific but will not divulge the exact details, presumably to try and retain deniability. Then others who might be party to the knowledge may join in and start a whole flame thread. It is mainly used as a tool to gain vindication or popularity and it can be very easy to get sucked in by it. I have been party to this type of thing many times, both on the giving and receiving end and have learned by experience not to get involved if at all possible. There are no winners from flame wars as everybody ultimately ends up getting burnt. All this can be avoided by simply saying what you mean and to whom you want to say it, preferably away from the public domain.

Similarly, many people use Facebook to state what is seriously on their mind, broadcasting their problems, feelings and viewpoints. Often this is done with a reduced appreciation for the fact that the information they are sharing is essentially being made public. Sometimes it leads to resentment from those who may not wish to read about the poster’s problems and sometimes it leads to others being offended by the content of the post, even if it is not being directed at them. In the latter case, things can get very serious for the poster and I have seen this happen recently.

I suppose with the power to communicate and interact publicly so easily like that, comes the responsibility to use it properly. I think with the advent of social networking, people are losing the rationality to choose the most appropriate method of communication in each case and in using websites in this way, are detaching themselves from reality to an extent.

My online friends differ wildly, from people who casually use the site for playing games and sending the odd message, to people who live out their lives on there and many in-between. It comes in phases with me. I might use it heavily for a while and then I will take a break from it. It is nice to be able to read what everybody is up to at any given time but it is also nice to have something to talk about when I see them in real life.

See you down the pub!

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By Alec Posted in Blog

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